Napoli’s victory against Genoa on Friday evening was not a typical Napoli victory. Sarri’s side has typically treated its fans to dominant displays of possession, fluid build ups, and dynamic off the ball movement. Friday’s performance seemed deliberately different. The Partenopei played a more direct and counter-attacking style. The defenders were sending long balls over the top and the attack was committed to a direct assault towards Genoa’s goal rather than a measured build up. The typical patience which has led Napoli to the top of the possession table was swapped for a more pragmatic and defensive play style. In fact, at the 85th minute, the sides were tied for possession (Genoa didn’t get a sniff of the ball after this point so the match totals may be slightly skewed).
Though this may seem to be a knock on Friday’s performance, I see it as a practice run. Genoa has given trouble to Napoli in the past yet they are nonetheless the type of team that the Neapolitans can and should dominate possession wise. Wednesday night’s clash against Spanish giants Real Madrid presents Sarri with a different challenge. There is simply no chance that Napoli will dominate possession against the defending European champions. As a result, Napoli will have to alter their style of play if they are going to leave Spain with a workable result.
Sarri will need to exchange his free flowing offensive passing game for a pragmatic defensive game. If Napoli are to take anything from Madrid they will need to allow themselves to be bent into a defensive shape without snapping under the pressure. This is something that few Italian sides can impose on the Partenopei. For stretches of Friday’s match, Napoli played 9 or ten men behind the ball. In my view, this was a conscious choice from Sarri. The tactician knows very well that Napoli will need to buckle down on Wednesday but he also knows that Napoli don’t have much experience in that regard.
The unusually deep backline played with impressive unison on Friday evening. Koulibaly was an absolute rock and did very well to distribute the ball, Albiol was equally solid. Despite having conceded a decent amount of possession to the visitors, Napoli did not allow many clear chances on goal; Reina was not troubled. That being said, he was able to dish the ball out well and spark dangerous counter attacks. Napoli’s second goal, a blistering counter, served as the perfect example of the sorts of plays they will need to make and convert in order to be successful. Although Genoa is far from the level of opponent that Real Madrid is, the defensive approach of Friday night, with strong counters sprinkled in, gives fans reasons to be optimistic. The battle will be hard, the opponent will be strong, and the ground will be hostile but if Napoli keep their shape and attack Madrid with speed and purpose, like they did against Genoa, the Partenopei may be able to come back home with a wide open tie. If Napoli can keep it close for the home leg, we can’t rule anything out at the San Paolo.